Recently I read that the first New Zealand Mini Golf Open Championship was going to be played right here in Auckland. I thought, No way! I have to be a part of this!
Sure, like all of you, at first I was thinking, Come on, this can’t be serious. But everything associated with the event seemed like a big-time tournament. There was qualifying to get into the event, and there were par 2s, 3s and par 4s on the course. There is a New Zealand Mini Golf Federation, and there are even professional mini golfers! I quickly learned that this is pretty serious stuff and that competitive mini-golf is massively popular in Europe.
I couldn’t help but think to myself, What kind of weirdo is going to play in this event? Then I answered my question: ME! That’s who!
Over the next weeks I qualified and practiced enthusiastically. I’ve never played mini golf seriously before. The winner of the event would even gain automatic entry into the World Mini Golf Championship in Croatia later in the year! All the while I was thinking, This is can’t be a real thing. But at the same time I was thinking This is going to be an absolute blast!
I showed up on the day of the event to find that around 85 golfers had registered to play in the first NZ Mini Golf Open Championship. There was even a professional mini golfer (Allan Cox) who came over from Australia to participate. He’s been a professional mini golfer for 25 years.
I was a little surprised when I showed up. I was expecting a nuttier vibe. It was just a really fun group of people. Fun, and serious! I made it a point to talk to the experienced mini golfers. I spoke to the New Zealand current women’s and men’s national champion, Lucy Geisen, and Bobby Hart. Both have participated in the World Mini Golf Championships. I had to ask them two questions: Why? and How did this happen?
The answer was simple—competition—which was no different from the reason that I was participating. Bobby Hart is a soccer coach, and Lucy is an athlete who played many sports in her life, and both craved the same thing, an avenue in which to compete. AND mini golf is so much fun! Lucy and Bobby both also commented on the quality of people they have encountered through mini golf.
What I experienced as I teed off on the first hole with people watching and cameras pointed in my direction was the same first tee jitters I have felt during important golf tournaments. And over short putts, I felt the the same real nerves.
The format for the men’s division were as such: we’d play in foursomes in a 54-hole stroke-play event, played over 2 courses, with a cut after 36 holes. The ten lowest players would compete for the title in the final round. I was determined to make the cut. I didn’t think I could win, because I was immediately intimidated by the serious mini putt players. You could tell who they were by their equipment (special balls) and their outfits. Yeah, I felt like a rookie.
The tournament was run very professionally, with Red Bull and others as sponsors. There was a scoreboard, and there were first class trophies and rules officials. You had to sign your card after the round, too… all aspects of a traditional golf tournament carried over to the Mini Golf Championship. We had fans, media coverage, cameras, and a lot of cheering. I’ve been to The Masters in Augusta many times. I’ve heard the roars from distant holes. You even had that. Yes, even the roars and groans. Many of the holes were completely surrounded with on-lookers craning to get a view of the action. When you made an important putt or a hole-in-one, there was applause. It was fun to tip the cap in acknowledgement of the spectators—who appreciated fist-pumps with even more enthusiasm. There was a lot of energy and excitement surrounding the event.
After a few holes I settled down and was playing well. At the end of the first round I was one under, and I believe only one off the lead. I had even beaten the professionals in my group.
I started the second round slowly, missing some short putts. Hey, I admit it! I was nervous. I figured the professionals in my group would be very motivated to show their stuff in the 2nd round, and I was right. Both Alan (from Australia) and Bobby (the New Zealand Champion) came out on fire. They played well on the front nine, and I struggled. I pulled it together on the back nine and ended up even par for the round. Alan, the professional from Australia, came back strong after a disappointing first round and shot -4. Bobby played well the 2nd round, shooting under par after struggling in the first round.
We waited for about half an hour after the 2nd round while scores were being entered into the scoreboard, and we were all wondering if we’d make the cut. This time gave me a chance to get to know more about some of the hard-core mini golfers.
We were all a little nervous.
Then came the results… I was in! I made the cut! Mission accomplished. I was 4 shots out of the lead going into the last round and would need a strong showing on a tough and unforgiving course. Anyone within 5 shots of the lead had a chance. There were some tricky holes out there that could blow up your score. For example, there was a 3-tiered hole where in the first round I made a hole-in-one and the defending champ made a 5. So, anyone in the final 10 had a chance to win.
In the final round I got paired with a lad named James Turner. He is a professional rugby player from the Hamilton Chiefs. He and some of the other boys from the team who were on injured reserve came out to participate for a couple of reasons: 1) to have a laugh, and 2) to compete.
I struggled the last round in spite of hitting two holes-in-one. I was really disappointed! I thought I might able to win, but my nerves got to me. I missed some crucial second putts and also got some bad breaks, as you’ll tend to get in mini-golf, or any form of golf. I think I shot a 3 over par. I ended up finishing 6th, a respectable showing in my first mini putt major.
My 15 year old son also played in the youth division. He came 3rd, which was awesome.
Would I do it again? Absolutely! I already can’t wait till next year and have been contacted about joining the local professional mini putt tour.
This was some of the most fun I’ve had in a long time. I would recommend competing in the Mini Golf tournaments to everyone, golfers and non-golfers alike. I’m going to get as many friends as I can to come next year and give it a try. Anyone can do it, at any age! There are also divisions for youth, parent/child, and women.
Who doesn’t love mini-golf? Nobody. Not many other activities can lay that claim. We all have great memories of playing mini golf as a kid. Perhaps we should all do more of it, if for no other reason than to feel like a kid again.
SOOO much fun!! Give it a try if you can.